Fenland Council leader John Clark DID breach code of conduct, committee decides but rule out Fenland Hall ban or laptop removal sanction
PUBLISHED: 10:20 17 June 2016
Fenland Council leader John Clark did breach the code of conduct when he leaked confidential details of a complainant, a conduct hearing ruled today.
Chief solicitor Tom Lewis said: “As a committee we are here to provide reassurance to the electorate in the district that standards of public life are being maintained.”
An independent member of the conduct committee, Tina Gambell, said: “Personally I am frustrated this has happened.
“So often councillors in Fenland are criticised for their actions; it is so important they are squeaky clean and transparent. The fact he forwarded the information does nothing for confidence in this local authority.”
Committee chairman Councillor Sam Hoy said there were a number of sanctions they could impose on Cllr Clark.
•Banning him from Fenland Hall for a period of time (although he would be able to attend meetings)
•Removing equipment such as a laptop provided by the council from him
•A motion of censure
•Put a public notice in a newspaper.
The committee agreed that Cllr Clark will see his breach announced publicly in an official council notice in a local newspaper.
Cllr Hoy felt a public notice was unnecessary because “the press will report the story”.
Mrs Gambell disagreed and said: “What he did was wrong and people need to understand this sort of thing is unacceptable and the conduct committee will publicise these breaches - so I would like to see a public notice. It is in the interests of transparency
The conduct committee agreed Cllr Clark was wrong to reveal the name of a resident who made a complaint to him about a planning issue.
The issue revolved around a complaint made to Cllr Clark about unauthorised use of a piece of land in Alpha Street, March.
Cllr Clark told the man running a business from the site the name of the person who complained – without revealing to the complainant he was also the owner of the site.
The complaint against Cllr Clark was made by Alan Gowler who is not related to anyone involved in the case but who argued it was an issue of wider interest.
The committee, made up of five Fenland councillors together with Christchurch parish council chairman Nigel Russell, March town mayor Andrew Donnelly and Fenland’s independent person Tina Gambell, took less than five minutes to agree Cllr Clark was acting in his capacity as a councillor and not site owner when he dealt with the complaint.
But they agreed he did not have to reveal he was the site owner because that ‘was a personal matter’ and the information was on his public declarations of interest.
And he had not used the information for ‘personal gain’.
It was also agreed the committee should deal with the complaint even though it was made by a third party.
Councillor Chris Boden said it was not up to the committee to determine whether data protection laws had been broken by Cllr Clark.
Councillor David Mason said it was “an open and shut case” because Cllr Clark had admitted his actions in a letter to Mr Lewis.
Cllr Clark wrote: “I did share the complaint with my tenant, having reflected on this, it may not have been the most appropriate course of action.”
He has since apologised personally to the complainant.
Cllr Mason felt training was unnecessary and would be an “insult” because of Cllr Clark’s position and length of service.
However, Cllr Boden said it was not his length of service that made training unnecessary. It was the fact he had apologised and acknowledged his actions were “inappropriate” which showed he understood what was expected of him as a councillor.